This is very hard for me to admit, particularly as a self-proclaimed die-hard Spurs fan…I have a guilty secret. The fact is I think I’m in love with West Ham United.
I can sense your shock and surprise, why would someone raised and educated in ‘glory glory’ football – shining now almost as brightly as in the swinging sixties – make such a statement about the ‘little brothers’ from Green Street? Why would someone who’s marvelled at the finesse of Ginola, the elegance of Ledley King, the sheer power of Gareth Bale even pay a thought to a club that’s, let’s face it, have never even won the league?
I was educated in France, where, regrettably, amidst swathes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and United ‘fans’, there are very few who are truly aware of the Hammers. I have taken every opportunity to convey my admiration, and indeed, I must have bored many a French footie fanatic with regaled stories of that ‘gooey feeling’ I get when I’m outside the Boleyn.
There’s just something about that team. Maybe it’s because of the three boasts, the three claims of West Ham that I pull out at any and every occasion.
To begin with, the stadium; Upton Park, the Boleyn Ground, a veritable bastion of football excellence in the heart of the East. I sang out as loudly as anyone at the Lane during the Olympic Stadium debate. ‘Say No to Stratford! North London is ours!’ we howled together, not just at home. After victories in Sunderland, and draws in Newcastle, those words rang out true. I meant it. Beautiful stadium, sure, an exciting prospect, absolutely, but not for us…give it to West Ham. That was the feeling: ‘let them have it.’ Yet part of me wished it wouldn’t be so.
The first boast; ‘there’s nowhere better to watch a football match than beneath the floodlights at Upton Park.’ I’m inclined to agree. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no place like home, and there certainly is something special about an evening at White Hart Lane, with Audere est Facere written in bold dark blue amidst banks of fans, and the Golden Cockerel looking down on events below.
Still, the Boleyn Ground has to be the drama and theatre of football at it’s very best. Lights casting dancing shadows across the hallowed turf, the action and the actors in near touching distance, and ugly words and rousing choruses being cast down from everywhere into the cauldron of commotion. It’s a spectacle, and unforgettable at that.
The second boast; ‘the Academy of Football’ – what a claim – The. Academy. Of. Football. Now, a few clubs might have something to say about that; Boca Juniors spring instantly to mind. Referred to as The Boca Factory, the club has a proud tradition of rearing and releasing future Argentine Internationals into the world of professional football. Similarly, Barcelona’s La Masia – translated as ‘The Farmhouse’ – is currently all the rage for its near single handed fashioning of possibly the greatest club side in the game’s history. Still, neither of these clubs have ‘The Academy of Football’ printed on the touchline, beside the club crest, for all to see.
What would English football be without Ron Greenwood’s vision, and Tony Carr’s dedication? Lists can sometimes serve a limited purpose, but just listen to this: Paul Ince, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, John Terry, Glen Johnson, the Ferdinand brothers, Jermain Defoe – the ‘graduates’ have been well documented, but it is still a collection of names to truly marvel at. Looking beyond this list, to the initial batch of students to emerge from the Academy, brings us onto the third, and perhaps most significant, West Ham boast.
‘West Ham won the World Cup’. Go on! Scoff! Laugh it off! But walk down Barking Road, to the corner with Green Street, pass the Champions Statue; Wilson, Peters, and Hurst, holding Sir Bobby Moore aloft, the Jules Rimet in his bronze grasp. And tell me it’s not true. A hat trick from Sir Geoff, a fourth from Peters, and a captain’s performance from Moore (including, incidentally, the greatest pass ever played – for Hurst’s third) and football was ‘coming home’, for the first and only time. Imagine a country celebrating that, and imagine it nowhere louder than in East London.
My French friends have usually stopped listening by now. Mildly intrigued, but ultimately preferring to keep faith with the glossy Champions League clubs, and all that they entail. I could go on, I could refer to the East End humour, the club’s socio-economic background, the style of play, there’s so much more. Ultimately, it boils down to the same significant sentiment, I love West Ham United.
There, I’ve said it…and I didn’t even mention bubbles.